After leaving the "exciting" little hamlet of Lake Village, we headed north to the popular town of Hot Springs.
This area of the country, along with its 47 “hot springs” was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed legislation exempting the area from settlement creating the country's first national park, predating Yellowstone National Park by forty years.
For centuries, the famed, mineral-laced, spring-fed, hot waters, have been the gathering place for Indians, traders, tourists, health nuts, movie stars, politicians, gangsters and bootleggers.
Sadly, it is also the site of the first murder of a U. S. Park Ranger.
(This man, a W.W.I vet, left behind a wife and a 5 year old son. After a lengthy investigation by the FBI, five locals were arrested but none were convicted.)
The natural springs of Hot Springs are really,really hot!
We learned that the thermal waters flow out of the ground at an average temperature of 143 ° killing all harmful bacteria and making it safe for drinking and bathing but at that temperature, you can barely hold your hand in it! The city mixes in cooled spring water to lower the temperature to a safer level. They even have fountains throughout the town to fill your water jugs.
The town of 35,000 is divided by Central Avenue. On the east side of the street lies Hot Springs National Park, which contains eight bathhouses built between 1911 and 1923.
The west side belongs to the city and is lined with bars, restaurants and boutiques, some housed in former brothels and gambling halls.
And once you're here, you have to try soaking in the "healing" waters of the springs.
We decided upon the Quapaw Bath & Spa. This facility, like many others along the street, offers a full range of spa services.
For around $30 per person per day, you can soak away your aches and pains in four different thermal baths ranging in temperatures from 96F to 104F.
For an extra fee, Lorraine had a deep-tissue massage which she said was the best she's ever had while I partook in an aroma-therapy salt bath (total waste of time and money).
Afterwards, we strolled over to the Ohio Club for lunch. This saloon has it all: good food, cold drinks, a sordid past, and a mythical history. Named for the birthplace of its original owners, the joint has been in continuous operation since 1905. Not only is it Arkansas oldest bar (so I was told), it once was used as a gambling house, brothel and, during prohibition (cough.. cough), a cigar store (unless you knew the password). The ceiling has "bullet holes" in it from a card game gone wrong, the floor has markings where secret rooms once stood, and across the street are the tunnels where gangsters such as Al Capone Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Costello and Bugs Moran reputedly traversed to avoid detection by federal authorities.
Many sports figures such as Babe Ruth enjoyed hanging out here. Entertainers, too, were drawn. Al Jolson performed here in 1915, Mae West in the 1930s, and a host of blues and jazz musicians graced the bar well into the 1960s.
We spent a wonderful week exploring the nooks and crannies of Hot Springs. If you ever visit there make sure you go to the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower.
For around $10 per person you can go to the top and get a beautiful panoramic view of the area. Thankfully, there was an elevator!
We also stayed at a great five-star RV park named Catherine's Landing. The grounds are very well maintained, the pool is large and clean, and the staff is phenomenal.
It was right next to a lake where we were able to do some kayaking.
As you pull into the camp ground, you are met by an ominous warning sign.
Unbeknownst to us, this area has had many Sasquatch sightings over the years. I always thought Bigfoot was just a myth.. Until we came upon this as we were hiking:
Needless to say, I am now a believer! ;)